A 20-foot long monument within the garden paddock at Betfair Hollywood Park that marks the burial place of the great Native Diver will be moved, along with his remains, to Del Mar in the next few weeks.
Joe Harper, longtime president and chief executive officer of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, confirmed Dec. 18 in an interview on TVG that the ceramic tile monument would be relocated soon after the closure of Hollywood Park. The Inglewood oval, which has operated for 75 years, will be completing its final weekend of racing Dec. 20-22.
The 237-acre Hollywood Park site is to be developed for residential and commercial use in the coming year. Following its closure, the grandstand will not longer be in use, although the stabling area and track will remain open through Jan. 31, 2014.
Harper said he "jumped at the chance" to accept the monument, which was designed and painted by artist Millard Sheets. He said he was first contacted about the possibility by Richard Shapiro, former California Horse Racing Board chairman and grandson of Native Diver's owners, Mr. and Mrs. Louis K. Shapiro.
A location for the piece, which commemorates Native Diver's three consecutive wins in the Hollywood Gold Cup from 1965-67, has not been made. Harper said a decision would be made in the next month or so. "I'd like to put it somewhere where the fans will easily be able to see it," he said.
Native Diver won 37 of 81 lifetime starts and was the first California-bred horse to earn more than $1 million. His feat of winning three Gold Cups was matched by Lava Man in 2005-07.
Harper said Native Diver's legacy means a great deal to California racing.
"He was the kind of horse that was a marketer's dream," said Harper, who said he filmed some of Native Diver's races. "Usually when you had a great horse back then, they'd go east. But he stayed in California."
Jack Liebau, president of Hollywood Park, told The Blood-Horse that the large-size bronze of great California-bred Swaps with jockey Bill Shoemaker up, located in the clubhouse entrance gardens, will remain onsite "as part of a public area in the development."
Also designed by Sheets, the sculpture by Albert Stewart was dedicated July 1, 1958, in honor of the horse that set four Hollywood Park track records, three of them world marks, and a seasonal money earnings mark.
Liebau said that the graves of two other horses buried on the grounds, Landaluce and Great Communicator, will be moved. The undefeated filly Landaluce's remains will be sent to Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky, where she was born. The remains of Great Communicator, the Breeders' Cup Turf winner of 1988 and several other major Southern California turf races before breaking down in a race at Santa Anita, will taken by his retired trainer, Thad Ackel, who now lives in Louisiana.
Ackel, who trained for his father, George, said he would like to see Great Communicator's grave moved to Santa Anita Park or perhaps Del Mar. If not, he said it could be relocated to the backyard of the home he is building in Metairie.
Liebau said Hollywood Park plans to catalog many of its holdings and sell them at public auction, although a firm date for the sale has not been set.
He said a racing simulcast facility at the Hollywood Park Casino next to the track will be partially ready in time for the opening of the Santa Anita winter meet Dec. 26.
Once completed, there will be two parts to the simulcast area, a general admission area for $6 and a VIP lounge for $12. The VIP area will be the first to open on Dec. 26. The general area is to open Jan. 1. Total seating capacity will be 1,200, Liebau said.
"I can say without a doubt that this will be the best simulcast facility in California," he said.